Jen Waller is a Blues singer and activist living in New York City. Born in Oakland California, Jen’s musical heritage, as the daughter and granddaughter of bluegrass and folk musicians, has led her to produce rich and mature songs about the struggles of activists and everyday people. Her roots in traditional folk music naturally evolved and expanded to the blues with the influence of strong female singers like Etta James, Nina Simone, Janis Joplin, and Lauryn Hill. She quickly came to love the raw emotions and story-telling tradition of the blues, which became the bedrock of her musical endeavors.
Jen’s involvement in activism and politics was kindled early on when she began studying the Black liberation movement at Sarah Lawrence College and observing the connections between political struggle and music. Since then, she has fought for the people as a radical legal worker, helping to start a legal collective, and supporting the efforts of civil rights attorneys with the National Lawyers Guild. She has also been active in speaking out and organizing against mass incarceration and political repression; and working wih Occupy Wall Street, organizing demonstrations and building solidarity with communities. This work is amplified and translated through her music, which has the innate ability to reach those who might not otherwise hear it.
“It Can Be Broken Down” is the culmination of two years of musical and political development, which has led Jen to deeper insights, cultivating a blues of idealism and experience, sometimes smooth and reassuring, other times aching with the pain of collective oppression. Her stories of love and betrayal, of struggle and resilience, of hardship and family, harken back to a tradition of working class blues, but channel those old voices through today’s new struggles for freedom and democracy.
In the Spring of 2010, as part of a New York delegation which traveled to the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, Jen first met spiritchild, and recorded what was to be the beginnings of “It Can Be Broken Down” shortly after. Over the past two years, Jen’s relationship with spiritchild and xspiritmental records has blossomed and grown, creating the fusion of musical styles on the five song project.
The name of the EP – “It Can Be Broken Down” – is a phrase from a poem by activist and former political prisoner Assata Shakur, another strong woman who greatly influenced Jen’s development. “And, if I know anything at all, it’s that a wall is just a wall and nothing more at all. It can be broken down,” is a line that righteously embodies the struggle against oppression and the inevitability of our collective liberation. It’s a reassuring light in the darkest of places that reaches through time and space, breaking through walls to penetrate inside of each of us.
This summer, Jen will be traveling around the US promoting her album and working on a project called “Less Wall More Street.” She and her partner will be speaking to communities and activists about political repression and mass incarceration. Look for her on the street with her guitar, busking for change, spreading the word about the struggle to anyone who will listen.